Category: Sports

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills

I Bet You by Ilsa Madden-MillsI Bet You by Ilsa Madden-Mills
Series: The Hook Up #2
Published by CreateSpace, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on 29th October 2018
Pages: 209
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two-stars

Sexy Athlete: I bet you…Penelope Graham: Burn in hell, quarterback.

The text is random but Penelope figures out exactly who “Sexy Athlete” is. And why she shouldn't take his wager.

Ryker Voss. Football star. Walks on water and God's gift to women.Just ask him.

His bet? He promises Penelope he’ll win her the heart of the guy she’s been crushing on. His plan—good old-fashioned jealousy. Once her crush sees her kissing Ryker, he'll realize what he's missing. Sounds legit, right? The only question is…why is Ryker being so nice to her?

Penelope Graham. Virgin. Lover of sparkly vampires and calculus. His mortal enemy.

Penelope knows she shouldn’t trust a jock, but what’s a girl to do when she needs a date to Homecoming? And Ryker’s keeping a secret, another bet, one that could destroy Penelope’s heart forever.

Will the quarterback score the good girl or will his secrets mean everyone loses this game of love?

‘I Bet You’ started off as a mixture of odd and affected, with the protagonists acting like they’ve been pretending at being something that they’re not at first. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the high-school-type narrative—admittedly one that I wasn’t expecting at all—complete with the sorority/frat house bitch-testosterone kind of vibe was off-putting at first.

Then again, this is can probably be attributed to my growing wariness and intolerance of the N/A genre, particularly when hormonal characters are still driven by their lustful instincts, which I didn’t expect ‘I Bet You’ to be.

Add the virgin-player trope to it and I was questioning my decision to read this halfway through, but I pushed on because some reviews had suggested that this wasn’t a story that entirely stuck straight to stereotypes and an all-too-predictable ending.

Unfortunately, this didn’t fare all too well for me. Penelope at first glance, came off as flighty and insecure while trying to be spunky. Her somewhat archaic ideas coming from her bodice-ripper mind—losing her mind every single time Ryker came near, blowing hot and cold—felt even more out of place for a N/A virgin heroine who somehow managed to ensnare the usual manwhore quarterback (apparently 4 months of no-sex is a great accomplishment to laud), whose interest in someone-not-his-type seemed inexplicable.

Essentially, much of the entire book had to do with confusing game-playing (and not just in the field), hedging, chasing and pushing. What also felt like bits of the historical-romance genre sensibilities had crept into the story and threw me off quite badly because of how incongruous these were considering the college setting. By the end of it, I still found it hard to buy into a pairing which I thought could have ended up colouring outside the lines of these well-worn tropes but ultimately didn’t.

two-stars

Fighting for Everything by Laura Kaye

Fighting for Everything by Laura KayeFighting for Everything by Laura Kaye
Series: Warrior Fight Club #1
Published by Laura Kaye on 17th May 2018
Pages: 264
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three-stars

Loving her is the biggest fight of his life…

Home from the Marines, Noah Cortez has a secret he doesn’t want his oldest friend, Kristina Moore, to know. It kills him to push her away, especially when he’s noticing just how sexy and confident she’s become in his absence. But, angry and full of fight, he’s not the same man anymore either. Which is why Warrior Fight Club sounds so good.

Kristina loves teaching, but she wants more out of life. She wants Noah—the boy she’s crushed on and waited for. Except Noah is all man now—in ways both oh so good and troubling, too. Still, she wants who he’s become—every war-hardened inch. And when they finally stop fighting their attraction, it’s everything Kristina never dared hope for.

But Noah is secretly spiraling, and when he lashes out, it threatens what he and Kristina have found. The brotherhood of the fight club helps him confront his demons, but only Noah can convince the woman he loves that he’s finally ready to fight for everything.

‘Fighting for Everything’ is something I decided to give a go because it does sound different from Laura Kaye’s offerings of late: MCs aren’t what I typically read and Kaye’s recent focus on that left me hanging in the wind. That it’s an earnest take on vets and the demons they bring home from war is a bonus because it shoves the spotlight on protagonists who are the furthest from the cocky, swaggeringly confident male romantic fiction loves to portray.

But the Warrior fight club bit doesn’t come in until much later, to my surprise. In fact, most of the book revolves around the constant push-pull between Noah and Kristina who’d practically known each other all their lives, who suddenly move from friendship to something more, seemingly out of the blue. Angst-ridden and drama-filled, Noah/Kristina’s constant push-pull (along with unhinged jealousy and dirty sex) takes centre-stage as Kaye pulls everything down to rock-bottom, then uses the fight club as the anchor to restart everything.

I did feel so very sorry for Noah in any case. The damage he’d suffered to his body, the pain he found himself in made it easier to understand his rationale for really not being in the right place for anything (even if it’s somewhat inexcusable) with his best friend. And as much as I dug Kristina for putting herself out there after getting the epiphany about having always loved him, her ultimatum to Noah however—either lovers or nothing without leaving friendship as the option had she not gotten what she wanted—felt somewhat unreasonable when Noah had loads to sort through on his own.

As a result, ‘Fighting for Everything’ was a middling read, at most. The caveat here is that the friend-to-lovers trope is one I’m the most sceptical about, and the closer the friendship to begin with, in essence, the more doubtful I am. And this is clearly my inability to believe how a switch suddenly flips and a protagonist suddenly realises he/she has been ‘in love’ all along with the other person after years have gone by with many other partners coming and going. It’s the obliviousness/pretence/delusion of the characters that typically keeps me from buying into this trope entirely; only rarely does it work for me and only under very specific conditions at least.

Apart from the romance, the camaraderie in the fight club shines through—the military brotherhood extended past military service is what Kaye excels at—and it’s something I do want to read more about. It does come in a little too late in this book, but seeing as this is only the start of the series, I’m curious to see how far Kaye will take this.

three-stars

The Chase by Elle Kennedy

The Chase by Elle KennedyThe Chase by Elle Kennedy
Series: Briar U, #1
Published by Elle Kennedy Inc. on 6th August 2018
Pages: 377
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three-stars

Everyone says opposites attract. And they must be right, because there’s no logical reason why I’m so drawn to Colin Fitzgerald. I don’t usually go for tattoo-covered, video-gaming, hockey-playing nerd-jocks who think I’m flighty and superficial. His narrow view of me is the first strike against him. It doesn’t help that he’s buddy-buddy with my brother.

And that his best friend has a crush on me.

And that I just moved in with them.

Oh, did I not mention we’re roommates?

I suppose it doesn’t matter. Fitzy has made it clear he’s not interested in me, even though the sparks between us are liable to burn our house down. I’m not the kind of girl who chases after a man, though, and I’m not about to start. I’ve got my hands full dealing with a new school, a sleazy professor, and an uncertain future. So if my sexy brooding roomie wises up and realizes what he’s missing?

He knows where to find me.

Elle Kennedy’s is always a curious choice of an author for me. Very often, her books can go either very well or sideways—yet this is pitted against the readablity of her writing—so it’s this unpredictability that always makes me nervous to start any book of hers.

The blurb of ’The Chase’ sold me really, since it began on the assumption that most surface-level things tended to hide something deeper. But the type of college-life Kennedy portrays—the world of college athletes, sororities, the drug/party-scene and the casual hook-up culture—is one that I’m quite tired of (given the large number of books perpetuating this same worldview, where everyone seems obsessed with only cock-and-boob size and not much else), so picking up this book was done with more than a tad bit of apprehension.

I can’t really remember Summer’s and Fitzy’s flirtation at all but the setup is quite an intriguing one, with opposites-attracting being the main trope…with the moral of the story typically ending with looking past the very shiny veneer.

And I tried very hard to find the deeper bit, though honestly, I can’t say I was entirely successful in plumbing the depths of the protagonists or the superficial world that seemed to be perpetuated here. Even with her learning disability, Summer still did come off as an exhausting, spoilt, over-the-top airhead, full of the drama she tended to create around herself, and trying with words to convince others she has substance rang a little hollow with actions that felt contradictory.

While I liked reading a lot more about were both Summer’s and Fitzy’s interests and plans past their college years rather than the constant focus on hooking-up—even though that seems to be the main theme of N/A books these days? Yet there wasn’t too much of it at all; in fact, the bits about sexual harassment, disabilities and all the other shady little things that tend to get shoved under the carpet were the things that I found too little of as though these were just side issues mentioned, and rushed through because Kennedy focused on who was trying to jump into bed with whom.

Not tackling the hard topics left me disappointed as a result, and the creation of a sort-of love-triangle stuttered what could have been a more convincing effort to build on Summer’s and Fitzy’s connection instead of the mixed messages that kept pinging across (while bulldozing over other people). That the actual romance began much, much later in the book just made the first half feel like filler, or rather, time spent to set-up the rest of the characters and potential pairings in the rest of the series.

So I’m mixed really. Reading ‘The Chase’ wasn’t a hardship at all. The pages flew, the drama (never-ending at times) went on. But I finished it all still wishing, nonetheless, that I had something more solid to take away.

three-stars

Hooked on You by Kate Meader

Hooked on You by Kate MeaderHooked On You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels, #4
Published by Pocket Books on May 7th 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Violet Vasquez never met her biological father, so learning he left his beloved hockey franchise—the Chicago Rebels—to her is, well, unexpected. Flat broke and close to homeless, Violet is determined to make the most of this sudden opportunity. Except dear old dad set conditions that require she takes part in actually running the team with the half-sisters she barely knows. Working with these two strangers and overseeing a band of hockey-playing lugs is not on her agenda…until she lays eyes on the Rebels captain and knows she has to have him.

Bren St. James has been labeled a lot of things: the Puck Prince, Lord of the Ice, Hell’s Highlander...but it’s the latest tag that’s making headlines: washed-up alcoholic has-been. This season, getting his life back on track and winning the Cup are his only goals. With no time for relationships—except the fractured ones he needs to rebuild with his beautiful daughters—he’s finding it increasingly hard to ignore sexy, all-up-in-his-beard Violet Vasquez. And when he finds himself in need of a nanny just as the playoffs are starting, he’s faced with a temptation he could so easily get hooked on.

For two lost souls, there’s more on the line than just making the best of a bad situation… there might also be a shot at the biggest prize of all: love.

Kate Meader’s writing is always one that I look out for. There’s quirk, some humour and sometimes cheese, but it never fails to entertain. ‘Hooked On You’ closes Meader’s Chicago Rebels series and having come fresh off the scorching push-pull relationship of Cade/Dante, I really wasn’t sure what to expect with Violet/Bren’s story, even though this pairing had been hinted at from the very beginning.

A burly, surly Scot in trouble on so many fronts and a plucky, somewhat abrasive and determined-to-live-life-to-the-fullest cancer survivor? I took a breath and dove into a setup that was 3-books-in-coming and had my expectations exceeded on some fronts, especially when it came to Bren St. James.

As an alcoholic struggling with petulant pre-teens—the kind that swing between being difficult with everything and weird know-it-alls—I felt for Bren, his clawing back up into sobriety while doing everything he could to be a better man and a father. That Violet ended up as their nanny incidentally came as no surprise however, and I did enjoy reading how their initial rocky, contentious, sniping-type interaction smoothed out a little later on, held together only by sexual tension that Bren didn’t want to break for good reasons.

Meader’s exploration of what femininity might mean through Violet—having lost and reconstructed her breasts after the ordeal—was generally spot-on. With a hard front, a couldn’t-care-less, indifferent attitude that Violet put on, the shell of armour composed of sass, biting sarcasm and confrontational belligerence seemed too often like an over compensation for a vulnerable core. And I could, by and large, understand it. I got to grips with how fear could masquerade as courage and how the subtleties could be lost as Violet grappled with how she wanted to face life after cancer.

Still, while I understood Meader’s portrayal of Violet, I didn’t necessarily get to grips with her all the time. With a boatload of daddy-issues tattooed on her forehead and a chip on her shoulder a mile wide, I couldn’t help but feel that Violet was as easy to set off as a rocket, sometimes lashing out unfairly while taking on contradictory positions where Bren and his children were concerned. One moment she wanted to fight for Bren when his malicious ex-wife sauntered back into the picture, the next moment had her walking away with a dollop of self-pity because she’d assumed the martyr’s stance with him while assuming that he wasn’t ever going to put her first. For her immense courage in fighting the cancer, I did wish however, that she could have used that same courage with Bren (who truly had his hands full) when he needed it.

‘Hooked on You’ is nonetheless a pretty good read—Meader’s previous novella with Cade/Dante is probably my favourite—though honestly, I liked it more for Bren, who’s probably one of the best characters I’ve ever come across beneath the broody surface. There were bits that I thought lagged a little and parts where the back-and-forth got a tad tiresome, but overall, I’m still sort of wistful as I wave the Rebels goodbye.

three-stars

Medley by Layla Reyne

Medley by Layla ReyneMedley by Layla Reyne
Series: Changing Lanes, #2
Published by Riptide Publishing on April 23rd 2018
Pages: 207
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three-stars

Sebastian Stewart was never Mr. Dependable; he was more the good-time guy who only wanted to swim, party, and ink tattoos. Until he cost his team the Olympic gold four years ago. Bas is determined to do right this time around—by his medley relay team and his rookie mentee.

Jacob Burrows is in over his head. The Olympic experience—from the hazing, to the endless practices, to the unrelenting media—makes the shy nineteen-year-old’s head spin. He’s trying to be everything to everyone while trying not to fall for his gorgeous tattooed teammate who just gets him—gets his need to fix things, his dorky pirate quips, and his bisexuality.

When Jacob falters under the stress, threatening his individual races and the medley relay gold, he needs Bas’s help to escape from drowning. Bas, however, fearing a repeat of his mistakes four years ago, pushes Jacob away, sure he’ll only let Jacob down. But the only path to salvaging gold is for Jacob to finally ask for what he needs—the heart of the man he loves—and for Bas to become the dependable one.

I was impatient for ’Medley’—Sebastian’s and Jacob’s story—after the excitement I had for Layla Reyne’s ‘Relay’. The play for the ultimate olympics glory, the seething emotions and the drama that lay behind it, the tears and sweat and the extremes of emotions? I loved it all.

But for better or worse, ‘Medley’ ravaged me and not in a good way. The presence of bisexual protagonists in the books I read don’t bother me and even though the acceptance or the rejection of it is a major theme in the book, I typically hold my romantic protagonists to a more basic standard: a bloody arse of a character (regardless of sexuality) isn’t likeable; worse yet, if the bastard in question is a protagonist in romance whom I’m supposed to cheer on.

That said, I struggled hard with liking Sebastian Stewart and by the end, still steadfastly believed that Jacob Burrows deserved anyone else but him.

In the blurb, Reyne hinted at a catastrophic meet 4 years ago involving Bas going off the rails and a backstory that no one would like. What I seemed to have witnessed first hand however, was one man’s strong denial, insecurity and debilitating fear of being left behind that cut a large swath of destruction through people. I felt as much for Bas’s ex as I did for Jacob, 2 individuals who’d only wanted to be happy with Bas, yet were only taken for the run around and annihilated and humiliated emotionally by him instead. As victims or collateral damage, so to speak, of Bas’s commitment-phobic stance, I hated that they’d both paid the emotional price for his stupidity and his stubbornness for using his own past to lash out against those who cared about him. That it had to take Jacob to hit rock bottom for Bas to finally conduct some form of self-examination brought him even lower in my esteem when I thought it couldn’t get any lower.

In fact, I didn’t feel as though Bas had redeemed himself in anyway—an apology, sudden promises, staying the night after sex counted very little in my opinion—when this supposed atonement simply didn’t match the trail of destruction and the heartache he’d left in his wake. For that reason, I also didn’t like Julio painted as the scorned, jilted lover (even though he was) and his resentment did seem justified when he’d been the one whom Bas kicked out of his life in the worse way possible because the latter simply couldn’t handle commitment.

Apart from the rambling rant about characters, I actually did find Layla Reyne’s writing thrilling. Her swimming scenes were brilliantly fashioned and I loved her portrayal of Jacob and how easy it was to find him a sympathetic character whom I identified with immediately. Catching up with Alex and Dane proved also to be a brief respite from the ongoing drama and waves that Bas caused and in the end, I couldn’t help but latch onto the team’s grounding presence when the hooky drama surrounding Bas became too much.

three-stars

Game On by Nicola Marsh

Game On by Nicola MarshGame On by Nicola Marsh
Series: Women of W.A.R #1
Published by Escape Publishing on February 20th 2018
Pages: 63
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two-half-stars

Are they playing to win…or playing for keeps?

Angelica Bryant has a dream. The only child of a soccer legend, she pays her bills by working at her father’s bar while pursuing her goals: a role in sports management and a place in the newly established Women’s Aussie Rules league. Football is her passion, and she won’t let anything get in her way: including an ill-advised one-night-stand with one of Australia’s most successful agents.

Jaxon Flint thrives on success. His workaholic lifestyle keeps his agency and the athletes he represents at the top of their game – and all of his emotions at bay. Until he meets Angie, W.A.R.’s newest star, who undermines his carefully laid plans and gets under his skin. Is he willing to relinquish his careful control both in and out of the bedroom?

When Angie and Jaxon end up working together, it’s game on!

I started out the Women of W.A.R. series in reverse order, leaving Nicola Marsh’s novella for the last, and to my relief, discovered that reading the books in any order had no bearing on my understanding of the timeline at all.

There was so much I liked about the initial setup, the pacing of the opening scenes and the conflict that Marsh had set up between Jaxon and Angie. And then it felt like everything was over before it began. It was clear that both Angie and Jaxon struggled with issues that I was looking forward to see Marsh unentangling, which unfortunately, didn’t quite happen at all. As a result, Jaxon seemed more like a bundle of contradictions (and an arse to boot in the way he blew hot and cold with Angie despite his own self-awareness), whose flat denial about not wanting commitment in order to keep his life uncomplicated wasn’t entirely given much depth, as was Angie’s somewhat abruptly resolved situation with her father as she tried to find her own way forward.

While Marsh did capture key moments for Angie and Jax, the brevity of this novella meant that the passing of time felt very pronounced with each chapter and with it, came a bit more telling rather than showing. I thought ‘Game On’ had so much potential, but was ultimately, disappointed by the lack of development that could have otherwise, made this a brilliant read.

two-half-stars

Long Game by Catherine Evans

Long Game by Catherine EvansLong Game by Catherine Evans
Series: , #2
Published by Escape Publishing, Escape Publishing - Harlequin Enterprises, Australia Pty Ltd on February 1st 2018
Pages: 108
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three-stars

oes she dare pursue all her dreams?

Everyone in Grong Grong knows Cress Kennedy’s childhood dream is to play Aussie Rules Football, so when the Sydney Sirens sign her in the new Women’s Aussie Rules competition, she heads to the big city to pursue her dream. But no one in Grong Grong knows of Cress’s other dreams: the ones that revolve entirely around Quin Fitzpatrick.

Quin Fitzpatrick left Grong Grong as an eighteen-year-old to play Aussie Rules in Sydney, but after eight years the shine has gone from the lifestyle. When his best friend’s little sister follows in his country-to-city footsteps, he promises to look after her. She can stay with him and he’ll protect her as best he can. Besides, Watercress is the little sister he never had.

But Cress is all grown up now and playing Women’s Aussie Rules, and it’s about time that Quin sees her as a woman too..

I’ve always loved the idea of competitive women sports and Women in Aussie Rules – women playing Australian Footy – is the perfect platform to build budding romances in each regional team in the series. Catherine Evan takes on the Sydney Sirens with Cress Kennedy and her longtime childhood crush Quin Fitzpatrick, who was the first to leave their hometown of Grong Grong nearly a decade ago to follow that very dream they both shared.

The friends-to-lovers trope has always made me wary, because for me, there always had to be a set of criteria that should ideally be met; otherwise, I’d start questioning the validity of the pairing. Nonetheless, Quin/Cress do sort of work under the very specific circumstances that Evans has laid out: Quin left Grong Grong way before Cress really grew up, so their meeting again simply set the stage for a childhood friendship that deepened in the weeks they spent together in Sydney.

The setting couldn’t be more perfect – the Sydney harbour bridge climb was something I wanted to do some time ago, then balked at the horrific prices – and Evans’s way of writing Quin’s and Cress’s relationship did pull me in, despite the slow, slow burn. On the flip side of the coin, their hesitation to get involved any more deeply with each other was a source of frustration when the rushed conclusion and their less-than-ideal circumstances made for a HFN ending that made me wonder if this pairing would work out.

‘Long Game’ ended on a note of hope instead of a guaranteed Quin/Cress future when everything was still up in the air. And while I loved their commitment to each other because of it, the last bit proved somewhat dissatisfying especially after the long wait for Quin and Cress to finally end their dance around each other. In all, it was a mixed read for me – I certainly enjoyed myself, but definitely wished things could have turned out differently.

three-stars